How the land-grab debacle exposed Netanyahu as incompetent
A seasoned politician such as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should know better than to set deadlines that cannot be met, thereby demonstrating incompetence and lack of judgment. The fiasco of the July 1 date to begin the process of annexing swaths of land in the occupied Palestinian West Bank has provided further evidence that in the twilight of his political life Netanyahu has completely lost his judgment, and painfully exposed his lack of statesmanship. Add to this that he has remained in power for far too long, and is on trial for corruption, and the bleak picture of a far-reaching strategic decision made for short-term personal gain becomes all too clear.
It is almost impossible to comprehend what is driving Netanyahu to pursue this dangerous and foolhardy annexation plan. Is it an attempt to create a legacy in the winter of his political career? Is it a deep-rooted ideology derived from his extreme right-wing father? Is it intended to rally his base in a desperate attempt to cling to power? Or is it another diversionary tactic by a leader who knows that the charges against him of fraud, bribery and breach of trust are of the utmost gravity?
In his insistence on annexing what at least initially seems to be nearly a third of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, all these factors are surely in play, although his desperate need to stay in power and try to manipulate his trial is probably taking precedence over any other calculation. However, setting a deadline to begin what Israel now likes to call “applying its sovereignty” to these territories was misconceived, and by not meeting it Netanyahu has put Israel and its international political standing in a precarious position. Ultimately, the signs of a failed policy to which policymakers attach great importance are that it attracts criticism from all quarters including those supposed to be its most ardent supporters, it lacks detail, and its proponents demonstrate no resolve in implementing it, thereby compromising the probability of reaching the policy’s objective at all.
Netanyahu would probably argue, in his delusions of grandeur, that he is pursuing a policy with vision and courage, and that others will be grateful when they finally come to recognize his brilliance and valor. No part of this fantasy could apply to the annexation plan, and even calling it a plan is a stretch. Though the deadline has passed (deadlines, especially in this case, are more arbitrary than necessary), the scope of Israel’s proposed land grab remains unknown. There is no definitive map, and the entire public dispute is being conducted while no one (probably not even the prime minister and his closest advisers) has firm knowledge of the proposed borders; it could mean annexing as little as a few Jewish settlements, or as much as 30 per cent of the West Bank.
A seasoned politician such as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should know better than to set deadlines that cannot be met, thereby demonstrating incompetence and lack of judgment.
Since “legalizing” the occupation is an offshoot of Donald Trump’s ill conceived and ill thought out “Peace for Prosperity” plan, the least Netanyahu should have done before setting a deadline, making a grand announcement and imposing it as part of a coalition agreement was to coordinate with Washington. Incontrovertibly, both the US and Israeli administrations are volatile and sorely lacking in strategic skills, but after nearly four years of dealing with Trump and his advisers on Middle East issues, Netanyahu should have known to cover every base with them before making a commitment that he knew would upset almost everyone else in the international community.
While any annexation of occupied land is a brazen violation of international law and morally objectionable, this particular act of provocation — sabotaging the prospects of a peaceful solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, while setting a clear deadline and not meeting it — represents the worst of all worlds for Israel. It exposes the Israeli prime minister, in all his folly, as a man who harbors contemptible intentions of an illegal land grab that he cannot even properly plan, who is susceptible to international pressure, and who is incapable of coordinating such a crucial move with either his main international ally or his coalition partners.
For different reasons, the anti-annexation coalition encompasses hard-core settlers who won’t be satisfied with anything short of full annexation of the West Bank, Palestinians who rightly see it as theft of their land, and large segments of the international community who perceive is as a direct challenge to a two-state solution, destabilising the region and beyond, and a blatant attack on the role of international law and institutions. The impact on Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, Jordan, other countries in the region and large parts of the international community, not to mention deepening divisions within Israeli society, is testimony to an Israeli government that is causing irreparable damage to the country’s national interests.
Netanyahu indeed promised, in his desperation to win a third consecutive election, to annex parts of the West Bank; he believed it would distinguish him from his rivals and consolidate his base. If he fails, he will surely deny responsibility and blame it on the “unpatriotic” Left and their media allies for mobilizing the international community against Israel, just as they have supposedly victimized and persecuted him by bringing him to trial for corruption. After all, for Netanyahu it is not about what best serves the country, but what best serves to keep him in power and out of jail.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg